Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Boarding School Terms

Get familiar with common terms used by Boarding Schools.

Like so many organizations, activities and communities, Boarding Schools have a bunch of terms that are “inside baseball.” So we’ve created a glossary of terms organized by category to help you navigate your exploration and admission process, and get a little more familiar with life on campus.

General Terms

Form means Grade. First Form is Seventh Grade. Sixth Form is Twelfth Grade. The rest follow in between.

Prep is short for Preparatory. Many boarding or independent schools are known as Prep Schools – College Preparatory Schools – indicating that their primary purpose is to prepare students for higher education.

School Mission encompasses the school’s guiding vision and goals for its students. The School Mission guides all aspects of campus life and gives faculty, staff and students a common direction for students’ academic growth, personal development, and achievement of life skills.

School Culture has been described as the “personality” of a school. School culture is shaped by the shared beliefs, values and norms of a school. School traditions and practices reinforce school culture; for example, a celebrated maple syrup tapping weekend or homecoming football game, would reinforce specific values about the outdoors or sports.

5-Day Boarding indicates that students live at school five days a week and return home for the weekends. Schools with 5-Day Boarders generally have classes five days a week.

7-Day Boarding indicates that students live at school throughout the school term, except for holidays, breaks and specific weekends when they choose to go home. Schools with 7-Day Boarders might have classes six days a week, with half-days on Wednesdays and Saturdays for sports competitions or other activities.

Junior Boarding School is a boarding school for students in Grade 8 or earlier. Some schools offer only Junior Boarding; while others offer Junior and College Prep Boarding (Grades 9-12).

Day Student is a student who attends a Boarding School, but does not board. Typically, a Day Student lives with his/her parents and their home is located in the same town as the boarding school.

PG or Post Graduate is a student who attends one year of boarding school after having graduated high school elsewhere. The PG Year allows students to enhance their educational and build upon their academic record or extracurricular experience for college applications.

Headmaster or Head of School is the chief ad-ministrator at the school, roughly the equivalent of a high school principal. The head is usually a highly-experienced, boarding school professional, appointed by the Board of Trustees.

Living on Campus

Extra-Curriculars – The majority of Boarding Schools require students to commit to an activity after classes. This may include sports, arts or community service, and usually changes from term to term so students are able to try a variety of things. Arts and Sports facilities at some boarding schools rival those at many colleges.

Convocation is a gathering of the whole school – all students, staff and faculty – held at regularly scheduled intervals, like first thing every Monday morning, every other week or twice per term, or may be held only for specific events. Convocation is a time and place for special presentations, guest speakers and announcements, and also serves as a unifying touch point for life on campus.

Chapel Talks are presentations given by students, faculty, staff, alumni or other guest speakers. They can be secular or parochial in nature, and might be held in an arts center or auditorium, rather than in an actual chapel. The name has just stuck. Schools may have a scheduled Chapel Talk series or a Chapel Talk tradition, for example, that every senior (or PG) will gives a Chapel Talk in their final year.

Crew refers to the sport of rowing. Competitions are called regattas.

Fieldhouse is an indoor sports arena for the practice and competitions of indoor sports such as ice hockey and basketball.

IB stands for International Baccalaureate program which is a specific curriculum offered at some Boarding Schools.

AP stands for Advanced Placement courses which are offered at many Boarding Schools in a variety of subjects.

Dress Code indicates a standard of clothing required all of the time or for specifics activities. Dress Code varies from school to school. “Formal” might indicate jackets and ties for boys; skirts, dresses or jackets for girls. “Casual” might allow for denim jeans, but with no tears or holes. “Other” might indicate that a “second layer” is required, such as a blazer or a sweater over a button-down shirt. Dress Code might vary for different school activities; for example, Casual for classes and Formal for dinner or jackets on one day of the week. Some schools require a specific school uniform.

Study Hours are a designated time period when boarders must be in their dorm rooms doing homework. There is often a study hall for Day Students to use if they are not at home during study hours.

Check-In is the time, like a curfew, at which Boarders must return to the dorm. On weekends where there are likely no study hours, Boarders check in or sign in with the Dorm Parent when they return.

Lights Out means time to go to bed. Boarders must be in their beds with lights out to sleep.

Co-Ed Visitation indicates when a student has a person of the opposite sex in their dorm room. Boarding schools have specific rules governing this privilege including signing in the visitor with the Dorm Parents and leaving the door open.

Parents Weekend is a specific weekend – there are usually several throughout the school year – when parents visit their student at school to see classes, performances, sports competitions, and of course, eat in the dining hall.

Off-Campus literally means being off of the school campus, but it specifically describes weekends – “Off-Campus Weekends” – that are designated for students to visit their families; or Off-Campus Events, like trips or excursions organized by the school. Off-Campus privileges are often more restrictive for younger students and parents often specify in advance what kind of Off-Campus privileges their child may have.

Network of Support

Advisor is a faculty or staff member who serves in a one-to-one counseling role with a student and sometimes with the student’s family. The Advisor provides consistent support outside the classroom and can be the go-to for parents’ questions or other contact with the school.

Dorm Parent is an adult, a faculty or staff member, who lives in the dormitory with students, in a designated apartment, often with her/his family. S/he supervises the dorm, in accordance with the school’s mission-based guidelines for dormitory life. S/he is a consistent source of support to students outside the classroom, and is responsible for safety, and enforcing the rules/regulations of the dorm.

Prefect or Proctor are two names for the same thing – a senior who lives in the dorm with young- er students and serves as a source of support for students as well as a teammate with the dorm parent(s) to oversee dormitory life.

Peer Counseling is a resource in which students serve as counselors to other students. The student counselors are supervised by adults, and are trained in listening and response skills, and usually address specific topics, from homesickness to eat- ing disorders.

College Counselor is a professional specifically dedicated to taking students through the college selection, application and interview process. Students usually start working with their College Counselor in their junior year.

ESL stands for English as a Second Language and is a course offering at many boarding schools, as many schools have international students.

LD or Learning Difference describes differences in the way a student receives or processes information. Many Boarding Schools have teachers specifically trained and skilled in working with students who learn differently than the majority of students.


Rolling Admission indicates a long time range (sometimes open-ended) during which students may apply to a school. Schools generally evaluate applications and respond as applications are received.

Fixed or Regular Admission indicates there being a fixed deadline at which applications are due and then evaluated.

Financial Aid helps families finance a board- ing school education and is available at almost all boarding schools. Families generally submit a specific application for a Financial Aid Package. There are several standard forms of financial aid including:

Need-Based Financial Aid is awarded as a grant and does not have to be repaid. The money comes from the school’s budget and applicant families are asked to demonstrate and document their need for financial assistance.

Merit Scholarships are available to students who are especially accomplished in either academics, sports or the arts. These scholarships are typically highly competitive but do not require repayment.

Tuition Loan and Financing Programs are offered through a few schools, banks, or other lending agencies. These loans are credit-based, which means they are subject to credit checks and must be repaid with interest over time.

Tuition Payment Programs are offered by a number of lending agencies to help families manage boarding school costs. These programs are not technically considered loans; instead they spread tuition bills across manageable installment payments over the course of an academic year.

Admission Interviews are a standard part of the admission process. Students meet and interview with school admission officers either on the school campus or in their home towns when admission officers visit. This gives both students and admission staff the chance to ask questions, discuss specific interests and school culture.

Gateway to Prep is an online application system “created by schools to help admission candidates and their families navigate their way through the application process.” Students can complete the Gateway application to apply to numerous boarding schools.

Standard Application Online (SAO) is also an online application that students can complete to apply to numerous boarding schools to streamline the process. Some schools only accept the SAO, some schools only accept the Gateway Application, and some schools accept both.

SSAT stands for Secondary School Admissions Test and is a standardized test that assesses basic verbal, math, and reading skills. It is used by admission officers to assess and compare basic skills of student applicants.

ISEE stands for Independent Schools Entrance Examination, a standardized admissions test administered by the ERB (Educational Records Bureau) and used by many boarding schools.

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and measures proficiency in the English language. It is administered by the Educational Testing Service.

ACT (American College Testing) and SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) are standardized test students take for application to college. Boarding Schools often offer these tests for both Juniors and Seniors.

Educational Consultant is a professional with extensive knowledge of independent schools who helps parents and students identify schools or other programs that are the best match for the student. They are engaged and paid by the family, not by the schools.